Rural sector key to attaining net zero emissions

  • Insight

16 September 2020

The UN Climate Change Conference COP26 is scheduled to take place in Glasgow 2021. Lasting two weeks, it will be the largest summit Scotland has hosted. It is expected to be the most important climate change event since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015.

Scotland was one of the first countries to acknowledge its role in the global climate emergency, with the Scottish government having swiftly introduced targets to ensure action is taken. Scotland’s world-leading climate change legislation, the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019, sets a target date for net-zero emissions of all greenhouse gases by 2045. If we hit this target, it is predicted our contribution to climate change will end within one generation.

As we approach COP26, the industries expected to lead the way will be high on the public agenda. Achieving carbon sequestration and sustainability across our rural industries will be an important part of achieving our targets and, although complying with climate change law will be taxing for our rural businesses, it will also provide some distinct opportunities.

Carbon management

Introducing carbon management and providing and extending existing energy efficiency regimes will be amongst the biggest challenges in rural land and business management. The first step is for rural businesses to know their carbon footprint. From there, opportunities for its reduction and for change and growth will come through innovation and development coupled with clear legal thinking.

Land management will have a crucial role to play in sequestering carbon and reducing emissions, while also producing high-quality sustainable produce. The Scottish Land & Estates publication #Route2050 was published in September 2019, with the intention of sparking conversations on this topic. The report recognises that, in the next 30 years, rural businesses will be expected to make enormous changes in order to be resilient to both climate and market changes. It also calls for an integrated approach to land management, where food production, renewable energy, carbon sequestration, natural capital and thriving rural communities are all considered together to achieve climate change outcomes.


Developments across the Scottish forestry sector will also present opportunities for building resilience and diversification. Trees are firmly on the Scottish Government agenda and Scotland’s Forestry Strategy will have a key part to play in mitigating climate change, aiding biodiversity, improving environmental and landscape quality, as well as creating job opportunities and boosting economic prospects for the sector.

The Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Act 2018 places a duty on Scottish Ministers to promote sustainable forest management. The Climate Change Plan and Forestry Strategy both set a target for increasing woodland cover to 21% (from around 18%) by 2032. The focus on trees is likely to be sustained for the foreseeable future, and coupled with the Woodland Carbon Code which validates carbon capture under woodland creation projects and commodifies it as tradeable ‘carbon units’, this provides a real opportunity for the rural sector.

Renewable energy

The Scottish government’s Energy Strategy includes a target that the equivalent of 50 per cent of the energy for Scotland’s heat, transport and electricity consumption is to be supplied from renewable sources by 2030. This target is helping businesses across Scotland to use their experience and willingness to diversify in order to become more competitive. The global market for low carbon goods and services is also growing, spurred by major investments in low carbon technologies and the opportunities for the development of renewable infrastructure is increasing.

Resilience and opportunities for growth

We are already seeing innovation in the agricultural sector with projects taking place across the country trialling and sharing new ideas, which aim to develop a more collaborative, sustainable and resilient net zero contribution industry. Resilience building is particularly important when it comes to the effects of climate change and tackling carbon law. Banks and investors now recognise that businesses which are able to manage environmental social and governance factors, such as climate change risks, will be resilient and successful in the future.

The rural sector is seen as being key to the transition to a net zero emissions economy and our adaptable agriculture and land based industries are in a good place to be able to grasp the opportunities presented. It is clear that there are further opportunities for change and growth in the sector if we adopt an integrated approach to land management.

This article was first published in The Scotsman on 20 January 2020. A version of it also appeared in SL&E's Land Business magazine, Spring 2020 edition.

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